Patrick Gray advises on how to prepare for the possibility that your big data analytics might uncover surprises or spark a change that requires rapid action.
You've likely heard about the wonders of big data and the ability of technology and analytic models to help people make better decisions faster. Unfortunately, one aspect of big data that's rarely discussed is that it's the ideal technology for companies that have perfected "The Big Dodge."
You may work in one of these organizations and not even realize it. Or, perhaps you spent time in other organizations, and are slowly losing your mind in a confining environment where no decision can be made without dozens of meetings, and taking a controversial stand is as much an anathema as a dentist without floss.
These types of organizations suffer from a deep malaise where unwillingness to make a decision is often wrapped in talk of teamwork, consensus, or even "not messing with success." While these flowery terms sound inclusive and progressive, when they're used to support a culture where decision making is frowned upon or even punished, it's often a clue that there are onerous issues at what might be an otherwise successful company and pleasant place to work.
The big disruption
Big data enters "Big Dodge" corporate cultures like a bull in a china shop after a liter of bourbon. First of all, the technologies and collaboration required among IT, analytic teams, and business users demand strong and firm decision making and a flexible plan that accommodates rapidly changing technologies and methodologies. High-priced consultants might be employed to move things along, but in Big Dodge companies, their recommendations and admonitions become expensive shelf decorations rather than motivators for action.
Should a company with a Big Dodge culture get a big data project off the ground, be prepared for the results of big data analysis to go against the status quo, requiring a company to make rapid and controversial decisions. If your company takes six weeks of meetings to ponder a minor update to the employee handbook, what will happen if your big data model predicts today's cash cow product is headed for irrelevance due to a previously unnoticed nuance in the marketplace? What if you're targeting the wrong customer or, worse yet, your business model looks like that of Kodak circa 2001?
Preempting the dodge
It's easy to focus on the technical and statistical aspects of big data as you prepare to launch an initiative, but equally important is looking at the culture of your company and starting to discuss how you'll react if the analysis produces something surprising, or a change requires rapid action. Critical to this process is determining who should be empowered to make decisions, and how to engage the right people in the company in the process, without creating an open forum where anyone and everyone can second guess what happens after the analysis is complete.
Simply talking about how your company might change its strategy based on the outcome of a big data project should demonstrate whether you'll be facing the Big Dodge or a seminal moment where your leadership comes together to move in a new direction. Propose a couple of likely "safe" outcomes from the analysis, as well as an outcome or two that will prove controversial or challenge some of the assumptions that underlie your current corporate strategy.
If your company does get bogged down in debate and paralysis even before an analytical project begins, it may be worth pausing your big data efforts and attacking the deeper organizational and decision-making challenges your company is facing. While these efforts may be less exciting than a major big data project, the latter will never be successful without the former.